Alumni Young Adult Volunteer Trip in Israel: Barak’s Reflection

By Young Judaea

I signed up for the Young Judaea Young Professionals volunteer trip not knowing what to expect. People around me had more questions than I could count leading into my trip, while I didn’t have too many. I was taking part in a Young Judaea trip, and that has always been good enough for me. I knew that I would be well taken care of and was fixing to take part in a meaningful experience. 

My name is Barak Levy, and I have been a Young Judaean since I was eight years old. I was a camper at CYJ Texas for eight years, Tel Yehudah for two, and staff at CYJ Texas for four years before deciding to work at CYJ Texas full-time after college. Young Judaea turned me into the person I am today, so it only felt natural for my first time in Israel to be with Young Judaea.

Like many of my peers I felt somewhat helpless since October 7th and was wanting to find a meaningful way to support Israel. Because of this I felt an immense amount of pride volunteering on farms throughout this trip. I was able to pick produce and nurture crops at farms whose workers had been called to the IDF, called back to Thailand, or who were forced to stay in Gaza and I am extremely proud of the work I accomplished. It was incredible to be able to literally get my hands dirty and help Israel in my own way. It was an amazing experience to talk with the farmers every day and their gratefulness and positivity in times of uncertainty were something I’ll always remember. I enjoyed every second of our volunteer work and I truly fell in love with farming on this trip. Maybe there is something in the air in Israel, or maybe it’s my Texas genes, but farming was a spiritual experience for me. While the greenhouses could be hot and the work itself could be tedious, my mind often went to a meditative state where I found myself thinking about my Jewish journey, what’s going on in Israel, and the type of person I want to be. 

So much of what made the trip special were the conversations I had with Israelis. Every day, I shared my experience volunteering with Tel Aviv locals who would ask me about it and they would often share their perspective of what had been going on in Israel with me. I have never had that many spontaneous yet genuine conversations with strangers while living in America, and I’ll always charish those talks. Young Judaea even had a few Israelis join our trip to create bonds with us throughout our volunteering which helped create an extra level of meaning and connection to our trip.

There are a number of volunteer opportunities in Israel put on by various organizations, but Young Judaea trips are unique. In every Young Judaea program I have been a part of, I have made incredibly fast and strong relationships with my peers. For this trip, participants were ages 20 to 40. While this is a big age difference, it never seemed to matter, and by the first Shabbat, only two days into the trip, it felt like we were a family. From Shabbat prayers, conversations while farming, spontaneous Rikud (Israeli Dance) sessions, and long group walks around the city, our volunteer group built a tight-knit community that could only have been fostered through Young Judaea.

While there were so many amazing things I did and saw on the trip, I also couldn’t help but feel the sadness all around the country. Everywhere I looked, there were hostage photos and Bring Them Home murals. There was an extra level of sorrow, mourning, and anger to everything that has been going on by stepping into Israel for myself. I ate at a small falafel shop a hostage frequented every day, I spoke with a Nova survivor, and I took part in a Havdallah service with parents of hostages. I had been thinking of the hostages since October 7th, but there was a degree of separation and it was hard to put myself in the hostage’s shoes. Once I stepped foot in Israel this was no longer a challenge.

A couple of weeks after the trip, I can say that I’m glad I didn’t come on the trip with any expectations; I couldn’t have dreamed up a trip like this one. I got to give back to the country that is home to my people, create amazing friendships with fellow volunteers and Israelis, explore the country with new friends, feel what is happening in Israel for myself, and have a spiritual journey along the way. Every day, every step of the way, my time in Israel was incredibly impactful to me, and I have Young Judaea to thank for this amazing opportunity.

By Barak Levy, CYJ Texas Staff, Former CYJ Texas and Tel Yehudah Camper

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